Lawmakers say all primaries will move to March

Posted September 18, 2015

Election/Decision 2016 graphic

— Candidates hoping to run for offices from county commissioner to governor will have less time to prepare for next year's elections under a bill that top lawmakers say they will vote on next week.

House and Senate leaders had already reached agreement to move the presidential primary to March 15 this summer. But in September, a push to move all primaries from early May to that March date took hold.

The primary motivation for the move was cost, said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the powerful Rules Committee chairmen in their respective chambers.

"It was something like $9.5 million to hold an additional primary," Apodaca said Friday.

The bulk of that cost, Lewis said, would have fallen on the counties, whose local boards of election handle the nuts and bolts of casting ballots.

House Bill 373 is still officially in a conference committee to work out differences between the House and the Senate. But both Lewis and Apodaca say the majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate have agreed in closed-door caucus meetings to back the move.

House Speaker Tim Moore first announced the deal in the wee hours of Friday morning after the chamber's final vote to approve the state budget.

Moving up the primary date will move up the timeline for all candidates. Filing, Lewis said, would likely be the first three weeks of December. He said that, although the state could close filing at late as Jan. 4 and still comply with federal law, it made little sense to keep candidate registration open during the holidays.

It's unclear whether voters will get to weigh in on a $2 billion bond bill in March or November. Lewis and Apodaca said that was still being discussed.

"That's typically going to favor the incumbent just because there's less time to raise money," said David McLennan, a professor of political science at Meredith College.

That means sitting lawmakers will be less likely to see a challenge from their political right if they're Republicans or their political left if they're Democrats. It also means the Democrats have even less time to find a challenger to U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

On the flip side, for those who do survive the primary, they will have extra time to raise money and get organized in advance of the general election.

"I think it's going to be a fairly loud year," McLennan said, adding that both the addition of presidential primaries and more time to raise money will fuel the battle on North Carolina's airwaves.

Another possible side-effect of the earlier primaries could be an acceleration of next year's legislative session.

"It's a possibility," Apodaca said. "It's something we're discussing."

Traditionally, lawmakers have held their "short" legislative session just after the May primary. With the primary moved up to March, lawmakers could return to town earlier in hope of brokering a budget agreement well in advance of the start of the fiscal year on July 1.


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